Leading health experts agree that going vegetarian is the single-best thing we can do for ourselves and our families. Healthy vegetarian diets support a lifetime of wellness and provide protection against numerous diseases, including our country’s three biggest killers: heart disease, cancer, and stroke. The American Dietetic Association states that vegetarians have “lower rates of death from ischemic heart disease; ... lower blood cholesterol levels, lower blood pressure, and lower rates of hypertension, type 2 diabetes, and prostate and colon cancer” and that vegetarians are less likely than meat-eaters to be obese. Well-planned vegetarian diets provide us with all the nutrients that we need, minus all the saturated fat, cholesterol, and contaminants found in animal flesh and eggs.
If you are interested in improving your overall health or overcoming a specific condition such as those listed above, a vegetarian diet will help you reach your goals.
Perhaps you are hesitant about adopting a vegetarian diet due to the myth that proper nutrition cannot be obtained from plant-based foods. Consider the following list highlighting those nutrients commonly thought to be lacking in a vegetarian diet and the abundance of vegetarian foods that satisfy each nutritional requirement:
- Protein: All plants contain amino acids (the building blocks of protein), therefore, all plant foods contain protein (some in higher concentrations than others). Leafy greens, broccoli, asparagus, sprouts, beans, legumes, nuts, seeds, tempeh, tofu, whole grains, and dairy products all contain substantial amounts of protein. Most “veggie meats” are also high in protein. It is not necessary to eat a combination of these proteins at each meal. A varied diet will easily account for all the essential amino acids the body needs.
- Calcium and Vitamin D: Great sources of vegetarian calcium include dairy products, dried figs, kale, collard greens and other green leafy vegetables, broccoli, tahini, blackstrap molasses, and calcium-fortified soy and rice milks. Vitamin D is produced in the body when the skin is exposed to sunlight. Only if a person is not getting regular sun exposure might he/she need to supplement Vitamin D. Food sources of Vitamin D include fortified milk and soymilk, fortified cereals and juices.
- Iron: Iron-rich vegetarian foods include swiss chard, spinach, soybeans, lentils, quinoa, lima beans, chickpeas, tempeh, tofu, and blackstrap molasses. Vitamin C aids in iron absorption and is abundant in citrus fruits and tomatoes. Some foods such as broccoli and Swiss chard are rich in both iron and vitamin C and should become a regular part of your vegetable dishes.
- Vitamin B12: Although not present in significant quantities in plant foods, B-12 is widely found in fortified foods, such as bread, cereal and soy milk. It is also found in Red Star Nutritional Yeast, a delicious and healthful addition to many foods. If you have the need to supplement, B-12 is available in many vegetarian formulas.
Adopting a vegetarian diet is a solid step toward improving your health. Simply eliminating meat from your diet is a good start, but for optimum wellness you must add to your diet a variety of natural, nutrient-dense vegetarian foods, avoiding processed foods and artificial ingredients and always drinking plenty of water. With these principles as your foundation, your body will become stronger and better able to heal existing diseases as well as ward off any new diseases.
- Ann Mangels, Virginia Messina, and Vesanto Melina, "Position of the American Dietetic Association and Dietitians of Canada: Vegetarian Diets," Journal of the American Dietetic Association, Jun. 2003, pp. 748-65.
- The Protein Myth. PCRM
- Vegetarian Nutrition. The Vegetarian Resource Group.